My New (Imperfect) Life

July 3, 2017


The shock of it all was paralyzing. I’ve never felt like that in my life.

The crazy thing is, I couldn’t feel anything at all.

My heart was literally broken. I couldn’t pick my hands up. The emptiness felt like 50lb weights in each hand. I remember going to the mall with Dan, my husband, to get him a shirt and Luke, our older son, a pair of dress shoes for the funeral. Everything and everyone kept moving around us, but my world was standing still.

How quickly can we get in and out of here? What would we say if we ran into someone that couldn’t have known that Toby died?

Can I just keep walking and not stop to say hello? Please don’t let anyone say hello.

Back in the car. Shut the door. I left the air out of my chest. I felt like I had been holding my breath the entire time we were in there. I cried. I couldn’t do anything else.

How is everyone just going about their day? Toby died. My infant son – died. We are burying Toby in two days. Do you even know? Do you understand how hard this is? Just stop what you are doing and think about it!

My life has changed dramatically since August 24, 2016. My worst nightmares can’t compare to days I’ve had over the last 10 months. I have always been a planner. My days were routine. Always arriving early for an appointment. Cards and stamps for the next holiday, birthday, or celebration purchased in advance. Rushing to get everything done in one day – laundry, dishes, lunch and dinner for the next day.

Losing Toby has changed nearly all of this. It has changed me.

I pray more because God now holds Toby and I believe if I work on a stronger relationship with Him, I can be as close as possible to Toby.

While I pray more, my faith has been tested. As someone that was raised Catholic, my immediate response to Toby’s death was – Why would God do this to us? There are days when I’m so angry with the world. My conversations with Him are more arguments. They come when I have been experiencing flashbacks and my heart just cannot take any more. I need these moments.

I find myself listening more than engaging. I watch people, a lot.

I watch families at the park playing. I watch people at the grocery store, shuffling along. I watch people in the car next to me at the stop light.

If I listen long enough, the noise, it all fades and I hear little things. Ones once taken for granted – the birds, the wind, the rain.

There are days that I look at the color of sky and the shape of the clouds and it pulls me right back to a moment of last summer. My eyes can be open but I can see our family – all four of us – doing something. The smells and the warmth – it’s all right there. And in a blink, it’s gone.

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I rarely rush to get anywhere anymore. If I’m late, the world will wait.

Rushing, pleading with traffic to get out of the way so I could get to Toby that day. It didn’t stop time, it didn’t give me another moment with him. THAT was important. That was worth the rush. There is nothing that important in everyday life. People don’t understand that but, good or bad, I don’t care.

I am more selfish. I want my spare time to be spent with my family.

We were given 12 weeks and 5 days with Toby. There are things, with that time, that I wish I’d done more. Hold him more than I did. Take more video of him. Not worry about the laundry or cleaning the house. I would give anything to be able to sit on the couch and hold him, just watch him sleep or talk to him and make him laugh. I want to make sure the time I have now is spent with Luke – doing what he wants to do. Playing outside. Going for a walk. Reading a book. Him telling me about his day. These moments are not ones we can re-do. Tomorrow is not promised.

I do not hesitate when people ask about our children. I tell them about Luke and what an amazing two-year old he is.

How he loves sports and he can pitch and hit a ball like no other toddler. I tell them about Toby. How he would be a year old and how he died at 12 weeks in his sleep. I ask them not to apologize to me. I am not sorry I am his mother. I am proud of my son. I am proud of the change that Toby is making to people’s lives. We are not blessed by being bereaved parents. But, I am proud of our story because it is one that is helping others.

I am proud of Luke because he talks about Toby. He tells others that Toby is his brother and he is in Heaven with Jesus. He tells us how he plays with Toby and what his brother likes. He reminds us constantly that even though we can’t see Toby, he is here, with us.

I am not perfect. I don’t react the way I should many times. I am jealous when I look at other people’s lives. I am angry with God when he puts situations in our path that are so hurtful, so wrong, as parents that are grieving the loss of their son. I don’t get together with friends as much as I should. I don’t say ‘thank you’ enough. There are days that I dwell on the sadness of my life.

I miss my old life. Our lives with Toby. I miss holding both of my boys.

I miss Luke playing with Toby and Toby watching Luke. I miss being a new mom. I miss folding Toby’s newborn clothes. I wish our evenings involved walks to the park, with both boys, instead of drives to the cemetery.

I am trying to accept this new path, the new person I am.

To say there is a ‘learning curve’ is an understatement.

I am thankful for the friends that have reached out and supported us since Toby has died. Those that continue to remember Toby and say his name. Those that support what we are trying to do in his memory and those that are brave enough to talk about our family, about Toby, and about our mission to help bereaved parents.

I am thankful to God for allowing me to be imperfect and I am thankful to Toby, for being beside us and showing us grace as we learn to embrace this new life.


  • Katie Stern

    Katie’s son, Toby, died on August 24, 2016 in his sleep from SIDS. She and her husband, Dan, are working to establish The Little Fox | Toby’s Foundation to spread joy to children and families in their region, while educating others on a journey of a grieving parent. Katie lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, their two-year old son Lucas, and their two boxers – Murray & Theo.

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